Being an L.A. native my entire life, and having frequented (and been dragged to :) many a food joint in the San Gabriel Valley for about 10 years now, it was only within the last 3 months that I discovered the terribly named "101 Noodle Express" on Valley Blvd. in the San Gabriel Valley.
Thanks to Chowhound veterans like jerome and ipsedixit (and many others), I finally ventured off to try this place. I kept seeing this restaurant being talked about, but stupidly blew it off because of the name. I kept thinking to myself, "Pfft! 101 Noodle Express?! What is that? Like a poor man's Panda Express?" :) Little did I realize just how much I was missing out on with my sorry mistake.
Over the course of the last 3 months, I've tried out 101 Noodle Express (Chinese name "Loo Wei Ju" - much better :) about 6-7 times, bringing various friends and fellow CH foodies, and we consistently all agree: 101 Noodle Express has arguably THE Best Dumplings in L.A.!
As of their latest menu, they have 25(!) different combinations of Dumplings you can try out (side note: You can order a "Dumpling Combo" to choose 2 different types (5 dumplings each), instead of just 1 normal order of 10). Here's a quick review of the dumplings we tried:
(Pictures attached below)
* Hua Vegetable Pork Dumpling (Hwei Hsiang Miao Zhu Rou): A very distinctive, wonderfully herb-infused Dumpling: A combination of Hwei Hsiang Miao vegetable with marinated Ground Pork! I know of no other restaurant in the SGV that serves this type! Hwei Hsiang Miao is a popular type of vegetable in Northern China (according to the manager) and it's very distinct, but adds a wonderful depth of flavor! My #1 favorite!
* Celery Pork Dumpling (Ching Tsai Zhu Rou): Using Chinese Celery (slightly different flavor, nuance from American Celery) mixed with marinated Ground Pork. Fragrant, nice combination of herbal vegetable and tasty ground pork.
* Wild Vegetable Pork Dumpling (Ji Tsai Zhu Rou): Another distinctive, rarer Chinese vegetable not as well known, this another great flavor combination that was tasty!
* Leek Pork Dumpling (Jiou Tsai Zhu Rou): This is a more commonly found style of Chinese Dumpling with Chinese Leeks, and it was solid, but tasted mundane compared to the other distinctive flavors.
* Fish Dumpling (Shi Bahn Yu Jiao): A nice Tilapia Fish Dumpling. Good flavors, on the lighter side.
* Lamb Dumpling (Yang Rou Shwei Jiao): I love lamb, but all of us agreed that this was average (the marinade for the lamb meat was good, but the overall execution / flavor combination was... so-so)).
* Pumpkin Shrimp Pork Dumpling (Nahn Gwah Hsia Zhu Rou): I had to try this one after a few CH'ers recommended it! Very distinctive and rare. I haven't seen this Dumpling before this restaurant. The flavors of the pumpkin, shrimp and pork were good, and it was distinct, but I prefer the first 3 dumplings listed above over this one.
* Pork Fried Dumpling (Hsien Rou Jien Jiao): This is essentially Shandohng Chinese Potstickers / Gyoza, executed wonderfully! 101 Noodle Express' dumpling skin works perfectly here, sustaining a toothsome texture and a nice grilled crispiness to the bottom of the dumpling. These are fantastic Potsticker Dumplings!
All of the Dumplings are handmade with a nice thickness to their dumpling skin. Some may prefer their dumplings with a thinner skin (personal preference), but I can enjoy Din Tai Fung's thinness, as well as the more homemade-style / rustic approach at 101 Noodle Express.
Their Leek and Egg Omelette (Jiou Tsai Heh Tzi) is a common, popular dish. 101's version is nice and crispy, but I found it a little too plain and oily.
They make their own noodles as well, and it's definitely distinctive: It's a little bit on the thicker side of a pasta noodle, closer to Udon noodles versus, say, the traditional white, thin noodles in many "Beef Noodle Soup" dishes found in the SGV. The thickness and texture works well in something like Eggplant Hot Noodle and their Beef & Beef Tendon Noodles, versus, say a Dan Dan Noodles (less sauce) where the thick noodles overpower the characteristics of the dish. Their plainly named "Chicken Noodles" (Pa Ji Mien) belies a wonderfully aromatic, tasty marinated Chicken with herbal Soup.
They also have homemade Wheat / Grain Noodles(!) which I've never seen anywhere else, but they were sold out every time I went. The manager said that the chef will make a batch "from time-to-time," so it's just rare. I'm very curious to try it one of these days.
As jerome has mentioned, 101 Noodle Express is home to Shandohng Province-style food, and their De Zhou Chicken (Shan Dohng De Zhou Pa Ji) is their take on a famous dish from that province in China. This is definitely some of THE most flavorful chicken I've had, ever! The herbal infusion of flavors into the very core of the stewed chicken is amazing. However, it can be hit or miss on the texture: The first time we tried it, the flavor was there (amazing), but the chicken wasn't stewed long enough (IMHO), because it was a little too firm for the meat. The next time it had a better (softer) texture.
Last, but not least, are the famous Beef Rolls. 101's Beef Rolls are pretty well done, but definitely a little on the oily side. But adding to their incredible variety (and distinctiveness), 101 Noodle Express offers a *Chicken* and *Pork* version of their Roll! I've never seen a Chicken version before, and it's easily my favorite! The Chicken Roll (Ji Rou Zhuan Bing) uses their special marinated chicken, combined with Green Onions and Cilantro and the nice crispy Bing Pastry for a great flavor and texture explosion! :) Since Chicken is leaner and less fatty than the traditional Beef Roll, it pairs nicely with the oily Bing Pastry and as a result it's near perfect! :)
In closing, for wonderful Chinese Shwei Jiao (Boiled Dumplings), 101 Noodle Express (Loo Wei Ju) has become my favorite place in the U.S.! While some may point to Luscious Dumplings, I find their dumplings to be too heavy and oily; the flavor combinations are too limited and don't agree with me as well, unfortunately (and they have so few tables and limited menu options). Dumpling 10053 (Yuan Bao) has now become my 2nd Favorite Dumpling House, surpassed by my new discovery; they have some nice flavors, and their own distinctive dishes as well, but 101 has more. I still can't believe I've missed out on these incredible Dumplings & Rolls for years (all because of the silly English name :), but thanks to all the Chowhound'ers who've talked about this place, I've found a great mainstay! :)
101 Noodle Express (Loo Wei Ju)
1408 E. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91801